Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Center forHuman Evolution and Diversity


Historically studies in neuroscience have presented their findings regarding how the brain works as universal to all humans, whereas studies in anthropology have focused on the great cross-cultural diversity in behavior and thought. Furthermore, studies of the human brain and mind are typically conducted with samples that are highly unrepresentative of the global population. Therefore, in order to truly understand the functions of the brain and mind across the spectrum of human diversity, it is necessary to integrate theory and methods from anthropology, psychology and neuroscience.

Elizabeth Losin, Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Health


There is an urgent imperative to unbias human microbiome studies across the diversity of all of us to solve the major challenges relating to health disparities and inequities. More precise and personalized approaches must take into account microbial influences on and responders to our lived experiences. Without a sense of urgency and mission, the generalizability of microbiome findings across populations will be limited and likely generate new cascading health disparities.

Seth Bordenstein, Director of the Microbiome Center, Professor of Biology and Entomology


Reconstructing human ecosystems of the past and their evolution provides not only a window into the past but helps us better plan for the future. We can use information from our ancestors to improve our lives tomorrow.

Laura Weyrich, Associate Professor of Anthropology

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Quite simply, the only way we will make meaningful progress in solving “wicked problems” of today and tomorrow is to take a holistic approach, drawing upon both depth and breadth of expertise from multiple disciplines and recognizing the importance of diverse perspectives and experiences.

Jennifer Wagner – Assistant Professor of Law, Policy, and Engineering


One of the strongest evolutionary influences on humans has been largely invisible: microbes. Interdisciplinary approaches that incorporate evolution, microbiology, genetics, physiology, and more are necessary to reveal how we interact with microbes and how these trans-kingdom interactions affect both evolution and health.

Emily Davenport – Assistant Professor of Biology


Our history of conquest, colonization, and massive forced migration has created a profound and long-lasting social and cultural legacy, and these actions also left a genomic legacy. Transdisciplinary research is necessary to fully appreciate human diversity, to combat health inequity, and to advance wellbeing for everyone.

Zachary Szpiech – Assistant Professor of Biology

David Puts Headshot

"No factor is more fundamental to human variation than biological sex, and its importance to our health and well-being is becoming increasingly appreciated. A transdisciplinary approach rooted in evolutionary principles is the surest path to understanding the development of sex differences and how these processes contribute to human diversity and influence our lives."

David Puts – CHED Co-Director, Professor of Anthropology

Mark Shriver Headshot

"Our Center is important for two reasons: 1) There are many interesting questions yet to answer about human evolution and physical, behavioral, and genetic variation, and 2) There seems to be a continuing divide between what anthropologists know and how they think about human evolution and diversity and how the general public and academic colleagues in other fields think about these topics."

Mark Shriver – CHED Co-Director, Professor of Biological Anthropology

Nina Jablonski Headshot

"Human beings are products of rich and complex interactions between biology and culture that have developed over millions of years. Human evolutionary history informs our understanding of human behavior and culture, and vice versa. Examining only one side of this set of reciprocal interactions risks missing the plot entirely."

Nina Jablonski – Atherton Professor, Evan Pugh University Professor Emerita of Anthropology

Heather Toomey Zimmerman Headshot

“Bringing together multiple disciplines to understand how people learn and reason about complex topics such as human evolution is important for today’s schools, museums, and other educational settings. The Center offers multiple perspectives of how research in this area is conducted, which will enhance young people’s views of how scientific knowledge is developed and of human diversity.”

Heather Toomey Zimmerman – Associate Professor of Education

Peter Hatemi Headshot

"If we are to make any headway in fighting diseases, reducing inequalities and the internecine fighting that appears to emerge so endemically when resources are scarce, values differ, and political approaches conflict, we must utilize multiple approaches, methods, be transdisciplinary and take into account the nature of human diversity, at every level, from our genes to our social identifications."

Peter Hatemi – Professor of Political Science

Eric Plutzer Headshot

"For problems ranging from infectious disease to racial tensions in American cities, understanding that evolution matters but that genes are not deterministic and differ in their effects depending on social behavior and environment is a powerful way to better understand and solve many human challenges. Interdisciplinary research holds great promise for using our knowledge of evolution effectively to improve the human condition."

Eric Plutzer – Professor of Political Science

David Almeida Headshot

"A transdisciplinary study of human evolution and diversity not only helps us understand how and why we became who we are, it is necessary for determining how we function day-to-day. My research examines the effects of biological and self-reported indicators of daily stress on health. How we experience and respond to daily life challenges is intricately tied to the evolution of human diversity."

David Almeida – Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

Finding Your Roots Summer Camp

Finding Your Roots Summer Camp

“Piloting a genetics and genealogy summer program for at-risk minority youths 11 through 14 to promote interest in STEM fields and to improve health”

May 2015 – May 2018
Funding provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Principal Investigators: Nina Jablonski and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Finding Your Roots Logo

Our principle objective is to test the hypothesis that interest in STEM fields and a personal Culture of Health among underrepresented minority yo

uth can be promoted through informal educational interventions using a personalized “genetics and genealogy” approach. This hypothesis will be pilot-tested in two-week summer camps for middle-school-aged learners to be conducted at three sites in the eastern U.S. The

three major goals of our camps will be to: 1) provide an enjoyable and engaging introduction to science, with the goal of promoting interest in pursuing studies in STEM subjects in high school and beyond; 2) provide substantive learning in scientific methods that students take away, thereby improving their likelihood of high achievement in future STEM education; and 3) educate participants as to how their decisions affect and create a “culture of health” for them, their families, and their larger communities. Learners will explore, as young scientists, the question of “Who Am I?” This exploration will focus on genealogy, genetics, and recent human evolution, three related fields which will engage learners with a variety of different learning styles and skill sets. Campers will learn abstract concepts and concrete skills in the process of studying themselves.

One-of-a-kind summer camp offered at Penn State for the first time

Finding Your Roots Workbook

Around this time of year, many kids are heading to summer camps, but a new camp at Penn State is not what most people expect. More than 20 middle school-aged students are participating in the Finding Your Roots camp, as part of the Penn State’s Science-U Summer Camps.